Tag Archives: irrational

Rational Female

This is an answer to Alison’s feedback on Facebook feminism.

I have no idea how long my own culture and those similar to it have been tending to view rationality as masculine and emotion as feminine. I think it’s an idea that is receding in influence, a bit, but we’ve a way to go. It’s a bloody stupid idea. It reinforces ideas of gender difference, underpins all those arguments that for so long kept women out the workplace, politics and anywhere else involving power. It’s also a thought form that encourages us to raise our sons not to cry, or acknowledge pain. Anger is about the only emotion some men feel allowed, and that doesn’t help anyone.

Plenty of very serious, sensible, rational people who I have met along the way firmly believe that emotion itself is irrational. The only rational thing to do with emotion, is to squash it, Mr Spok style. I have had plenty of encounters with both men and women where the expression of emotion has been treated as evidence of my irrationality. I have also had plenty of people tell me to my face that I’m cold hearted, unfeeling, and an ice queen for not expressing my feelings in a suitably feminine way. I’ve been told that when I do occasionally show how I feel, others consider this suspect and assume I am just trying to manipulate them. I can’t win.

Everything that happens inside our heads, be it ‘intellectual’ or ‘feeling’ involves the same brain, the same brain chemistry, the same little electrical impulses. Emotions involve hormones, physiological reactions created by all our history of evolution. They are not separate and ‘other’ but intrinsic to being human. Most importantly, emotion is not irrational. Emotion can be discussed, explored, contemplated, understood, harnessed, celebrated. We have emotional intelligence. This desire to separate things out goes with a long history of dualism. Mind and body. Body and soul. Introvert and extrovert. Stable and neurotic. Thinking and feeling. These are methods for putting people in boxes and positioning them on charts: Human creations that are arbitrary in many ways, and reduce our sense of our own natures.

I am a stable, rational, introverted thinking, feeling unstable, irrational extrovert. Most people are.

It is the fear of our emotional selves that makes us comfortable calling it ‘irrational’. If we label feelings as irrational, we can invalidate them and never have to think about what they mean. Depression isn’t a reflection of all that is wrong in the world. Grief and fear are not reactions to abuse. Anger is not a reaction to oppression. That’s a very convenient dismissal that does us far more harm than good. Our emotions are reactions to life as we experience it. If we ignore our own, innate reactions, we ignore what’s happening to us. We live in denial, powerless to make any kind of meaningful change. People who placidly accept may look rational and pragmatic, but they are also far easier to control than one who protests. People who cry are a challenge to those who do not want to engage with anything. People who are enraged to the point of taking action do not necessarily uphold the iniquities of the status quo.

The irrational repression of our emotional lives keeps us prisoner. The irrational belief that emotions are silly makes us weak. The idea that to be rational and able to think in a logical way is unfeminine, is just another way of disempowering ourselves. To be fully human is to be both thinking and feeling. It is to be able to think logically about the implications of our feelings and to be able to respond with emotional insight to intellectual ideas.

Autumn commented on one of my justice blogs that many people are in prison because they just did something, in an unpremeditated way. Crimes of uncontrolled emotion, born in the moment. People who are, I assume, unable to think about their feelings and who consequently have no control over their own actions once their emotions are engaged, or once alcohol or similar has made that easier. Being overwhelmed by emotion should never be an excuse for a dishonourable action. But until we collectively embrace the idea of being able to handle emotion rationally, the idea that an emotion can ‘make us’ do something, will hold sway. And until we can recognise the validity of what our emotions tell us, we remain easily led by anyone who wants to bully us whilst mocking us for the irrationality of our feeling hurt by this.


Facebook Feminism

By the time I discovered feminism, the call to sisterhood and the demand that traditional, female roles and work be taken seriously, had weakened. Growing up in the 1980s, I saw a world in which ‘feminism’ seemed to be about being more like men than the men were. Equal rights meant out to work, with padded shoulders, ruthlessly pushing forward. To my child self, feminism looked too much like Margaret Thatcher, and I wanted none of it. I also encountered plenty of the man-bashing variety, and I didn’t fancy that much either. Years later, at college, I encountered theories of social feminism, of accepting and respecting female roles and history, and all that. I also saw it was a theory, not a practice.

But I was at college in that distant time before Facebook.

Women on Facebook talk about their work, their men, their kids, parents, dogs, dreams and efforts. They post photos of cakes that went well, and cakes that didn’t. Images of things created, rooms decorated, frocks worn. All the traditional things that women have always done, now recorded by digital camera and timeline, and shared, with love. I have one amazing friend called Sharon who is actively reclaiming femininity through the medium of Facebook, and it’s lovely to watch. She’s not the only one, but she’s the most self conscious. It’s femininity on her terms, not anyone else’s. Then, whoever shares, other women and the odd bloke, pile in with observations, congratulations, and friendly noises.

In western culture we equate femininity with emotion, and emotion with irrationality. To show your feelings, to weep, rant, or whoop for joy, is to be emotionally immature. There are some other women who will haul you over the coals for that, even more readily then the men. These would be the women who have donned the suits and attitudes of a still very masculine workplace, and who want to get as far from traditional femininity as they can.

On Facebook, something else is happening. Yesterday, a woman posted ‘I just want to cry all the time. This can’t be normal adult behaviour’ (Or something like that.) Within minutes, other women were there, saying no, I have days like this too. I weep over this as well. Don’t beat yourself up. The anxieties of parenthood, the tears of menstruation, the grief and frustration of the world all sneak out in those few lines of status update. And in the unreal space that is Facebook, we do what many of us would not dare to do in a public, physical space. We say ‘me too.’ We share, and acknowledge and take seriously experiences and emotions that are fundamental to being female.

It’s terrible when you think it’s just you. All the shiny looking women on TV are never spotty, screaming with pre-menstrual tension, covered in baby vomit and holding a cake that failed. All the magazine celebrities shed elegant, solitary tears over betrayals. They don’t howl until their faces are red and snot drips from their noses. At least, not where we can see them.

I have met a lot of men along the way who believe that women are incomprehensible, irrational, unpredictable, unreliable. We’ve all heard the argument that our hormonal cycles make us crazy. I know from doing psychology, that as a culture we view calm rationality (allegedly male traits) as healthy adult behaviour and emotionality as being both female, and neurotic. That’s a hard world to live in, and a bloody unfair one. Rather than fight for the value of emotion, for the power and blessing of being able to express, so many of us have gone along with the pressure to be like men. And you know, I’m not even sure all the biological men are really ‘like men’. I think they’re even more squeezed and restricted by this insane understanding of what being human should mean.

I’m a fine example though. Up until I went through an emotional breakdown last year, I found it almost impossible to cry in front of anyone.

It isn’t easy, to go online and say ‘bad day.’ Just to manage ‘black dog’ or ‘bit gloomy’ is a hard confession to make. But when you do it, and others pile in and remind you that you aren’t alone, aren’t a freak, or incompetent, that’s worth so much. I am very grateful for Facebook. Now all we have to do is figure out how to get that little bit of revolution offline and into the real world.